BOOKS of the BIBLE
THE BOOK OF JAMES
C. J. Rolls, D. D.
Missionary in India for ten years,
Dean of the New Zealand Bible Training Institute, Auckland, N. Z.,
Dean of Education, The Kansas City Bible College, Missouri, U.S.A.,
Dean of the Missionary and Bible College, Sydney
This plain and practical book deals more with daily duty and ethical piety than with doctrinal discourse. We become conscious when reading the message that the great and gracious themes that have occupied our attention in the former epistles are largely absent.
We do not meet with the familiar words, Salvation, Redemption, Reconciliation, Adoption, Election, Predestination, Mediation and Eternal Purpose, but, instead, instruction is given concerning wisdom and its necessity, trial and its reason, temptation and its source, works and their value, patience and its goal, pure religion and its worth, perfecting and its aim, the tongue and its use, prayer and its results, endurance and its reward.
The coming of Christ is shown to be humanity's hope. (ch. 5) Those who are crushed and exploited by a ruthless spirit of competition, that is out solely to collect revenue and hoard produce, are directed to the arbitration court on high where Christ will sit as Judge to compensate toil.
The message was written in a day of transition when the Jewish mind had reached the dawn of a new consciousness brought about by the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. These people were beginning to realize that Christ, the Substance, had superseded the symbols and shadows of Old Testament ritual together with the temple.
The provisional things of parable and prophecy had passed and the perfect manifestation had taken their place; instead of temporary patterns the transforming power of the Spirit of God made possible the perfecting of the redeemed soul. James had heard Christ say, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.” He now tells us that wisdom is available to make this perfection possible to all, and describes its dignified and desirable character.
James has a unique style, all his own, and we may draw attention to four of its features: Firstly, the prevalence of his imperative commands. There are 36 of these in the five brief chapters, i.e., “Count it all joy,” “let him ask,” “be ye doers,” “submit yourselves to God,” “resist the devil,” “draw nigh to God,” “purify your hearts,” “be patient unto the coming,” “confess your faults,” “humble yourselves,” and such like.
Secondly, the excellence of his illustrations of consequence. Of these there are twenty‑six: the metal tested in the crucible, the surge of the sea, the flower of the grass ephemeral and fading, the crown after the conflict, the variation of luminaries, reflection in the mirror, the bridle in the horse's mouth, a ship driven by the wind, the rudder and the steersman, a spark setting the forest on fire, the taming of beasts and birds, the moth and the garment, the rust and the metal, the husbandmen and the harvest, and so forth.
Thirdly, the significance of the interrogatives of concern. The twenty‑four are used as a test of reality. Here is a selection: “Are ye not become partial?” “Hath not God chosen the poor?” “Do not the rich oppress you?” “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?” “Was not Rahab justified by works?” “Can a fig tree bear olive berries?” “From whence come wars?” “What is your life?” “Is any among you afflicted?” “Is any sick among you?”
Fourthly, the prevalence given to injunctions of counsel. Each of the fifteen of these is prefaced by the expression, “My brethren"; “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptation”; “My brethren, let every man be swift to hear and slow to speak”; “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with respect of persons”; “My brethren, be not many teachers”; “My brethren, grudge not one against another,” etc.
These features in themselves show what rich resources of instruction are centered in the message. The character of the contents is calculated to be a corrective to all that is carnal in the believer's life. We are not directed to the work Christ did for us, but to the operation of His Spirit, Word and grace in and through us. The epistle is intended to gird our loins with truth and guard our lives against temptation. At one stage in his life, Luther spoke of this letter slightingly, calling it the “Epistle of straw,” because he felt it contradicted the great declaration of justification by faith alone which he had rediscovered in Romans. Later, when his judgment matured, he perceived the message to be complementary, not contradictory.
The method James adopts to impress his instruction stands out distinctly from the other epistles; let us note a sample from each chapter. The apostle Paul assures us that in not sparing His only Son, God has given us the guarantee that He will also freely give us all things. James omits the giving of the Son, but asserts that every good and perfect gift cometh down from above and is from the Father of Lights.
Paul had committed to him the great truth of Jew and gentile being baptized into one body, and although James does not mention the one body, he does show how Abraham the Hebrew and Rahab the harlot found acceptance with God and satisfaction in one common center through faith.
Although no reference is made of yielding the members as instruments of righteousness unto God, one member, the tongue, is chosen as an index to the character of the whole man. When this member is fully submitted it becomes a medium for expressing the heavenly wisdom and of displaying the renewed mind.
James does not directly appeal for separation from the catalogue of associations enumerated by Paul in II Cor. 6, but he gathers up all the features of enmity as comprising a world system and proclaims that to be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God.
Our Lord expounded life as not consisting in the abundance of things possessed. James exemplifies the fact by defining the transient nature of wealth and the temporal notoriety of rich men. He then contrasts the triumph of Job and Elijah through prayer, when bereft of material resources. God becomes more actual in adversity and more real when reverses threaten the life with overthrow.
THE LIGHT OF INFLUENCE
This entire message deals with the transformation of temperament brought about through the begetment of a new disposition which expresses itself in good habits, gracious actions and Godly generosity.
If our lives are to be worthwhile and our labor worthy of the Lord, we need wisdom. James implies that every Christian is conscious of this lack, therefore he instructs us to ask of God Who gives to all liberally. Light exerts the greatest possible influence and is one of the most potent factors in the universe. When Christ selected light as a symbol of the divine life which He came to express and impart, He chose the greatest possible figure of prevailing victory. Great significance lies in the fact that wherever light comes, darkness is immediately overcome. “God is light,” and our Lord claimed to be “the Light of the world.” “Every good and perfect gift is from the Father of lights,” and therefore truth and wisdom are included among these. This is a reality that reassures because “the Father of lights" is unchanging in power, unvarying in truth, unceasing in love and unfailing in liberality.
Chapter 1: WISDOM AND WICKEDNESS - The results of wisdom being obtained will be that:
(1) A sane conception will be reached as to the reason of trial; (vs. 2,12)
(2) A sure consciousness will dawn as to the value of patience; (vs. 3‑4.)
(3) A sound conviction will result as to the necessity of faith; (vs. 5‑8)
(4) A spiritual comprehension will be gained as to the transiency of life; (vs. 9‑11)
(5) A satisfying confirmation will be derived as to future compensation; (v. 12)
(6) A sensible conception will be secured as to the source and growth of evil; (vs. 13‑14)
(7) A settled confidence will be entered as to the true nature of God; (v. 15)
(8) A sober certainty will be enjoyed as to the origin of all good gifts; (vs. 16‑18)
(9) A strong counteracting attitude will be developed toward all unrighteousness; (vs. 19‑21)
(10) Also a sensible criterion will be established as to deeds of righteousness. (vs. 22‑27)
Seeing that wisdom suffices in settling the mind on these ten important matters, then surely it is of the utmost importance that we should all seek to obtain so essential a requisite.
(a) The Secret in Wisdom. The opening verses of the epistle clearly express that James is more anxious for expression of life than confession of lip. He is not a champion for the defense of orthodoxy, but one who commences the discharge of obligations that pertain to a regenerate life. The four steps that lead to the plane of wisdom are those of proving, patience, perfecting and prayer.
Proving. (v. 3) This process is not to mar but to mold us, and is associated with the means used to test the excellence of metal or money, (I Pet. 1:7) and is also featured in the case of a completed ocean liner, when the new vessel is taken on her trial trip to prove the excellence of the workmanship. Because faith is of more value than gold, it is subject to the crucible for perfecting, an example of which is furnished in Dan. 3:15‑18.
Patience. (v. 4) This is sound advice for steady advance. The proving by trial promotes patience, and patience procures perfection. The queenly quality of patience is usually considered a passive virtue, but it provides the power to resolve for the right and to resist the wrong, while at the same time refuses to yield to discouragement. Surges of sorrow and waves of worry lead only to a stronger confidence in the Rock of ages. The things that would otherwise obsess and overwhelm are overcome. Patience is able to turn disappointment into a dynamic for deeper devotion to duty. The chill of winter, as well as the glow of summer, are both essential to the harvest.
Perfecting. This is the aim of the proving and patience, for God's design intends that the life should reach maturity, entirety and completeness. The divine will desires that every virtue should be fully formed, every capacity wholly developed, and every feature perfectly molded. Yea, and even more than this, for the very word “perfection” also implies that the emotions are controlled, the passions curbed, the desires curtailed, and selfishness corrected. The pains of purifying are necessary in the process of perfecting, for our own whims and wishes cannot attain it.
James is particular in drawing our attention to the perfect state, the perfect gift, the perfect law, and the perfect man. To what degree can any one of these ever be comprehended or realized apart from wisdom?
Prayer. Prayer for wisdom is the most important petition we can present at the throne of grace. We are clearly entitled to this wonderful asset and it rightfully belongs to us because Christ is ours. (I Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3‑8) Our perfecting can never be complete or entire apart from wisdom's guiding hand. When we come to the seven wonderful qualities of the character of wisdom as disclosed in chapter three, it becomes self‑evident that most Christians are deficient in this regard.
So great and essential a requirement needs to be definitely asked for, and, when received, it teaches us to wisely weigh all things before God, even to the thoughts we think and the deeds we do and the ways wherein we walk; no pleasure will then be found in things that caused Christ His pain. This legacy of wisdom is available to all. No lack in literary attainment need debar anyone making the request and no college fees present a barrier; the great essential for a well‑ordered, attractive spiritual life may be had for the asking.
Everybody may enter this sphere of encouragement, for “He giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not.” These words are brilliant in their beauty. God gives richly, freely and sincerely. The word “liberally” in v. 5 literally means singly. The picturesque meaning contained in the root implies to spread out without folds or wrinkles, signifying singleness, simplicity and one‑foldness, that is, in the sense of being plainly straightforward. God has no ulterior aim or hidden motive in bestowing His gifts.
“Upbraideth” appears ten times in the New Testament and refers to censure arising out of disappointment. A child may obtain a pencil from her mother when going to school, but through misfortune or carelessness may lose it, and within 48 hours of receiving it may ask for another. The mother answers, “Where is the one I gave you two days ago? Now, mind what I say, if you lose the run of this one I'll not give you another for a whole month.” That is upbraiding, but God never treats in such a way anyone who returns to Him for more wisdom. The gratuitous gifts of His generosity are guaranteed by virtue of His gracious personality. God loves to give, for giving does not impoverish Him, neither doth withholding make Him rich. The principle required is faith. Doubt spells the death of desire, devotion and definiteness. There was no vacillation on Abraham’s part when God spoke to him. “He staggered not,” that is, doubted not “the promise of God through unbelief.” The doubter is next described as being in a very disturbed and disquieted condition like the wind-whipped waters of a boisterous sea. (v. 6) Shakespeare has told us “our doubts are traitors”; yea they debar us from the benefit and blessing we otherwise would obtain. (v. 7)
Yet the saddest of all is that doubt disqualifies us from discharging our duty, and deflects our feet from fixity of purpose by dimming vision to the path of progress. (v. 8)
In broad contrast to this, wisdom secures to us an understanding of the way, the truth and the life, so clearly stated in Prov. 8. Verily as Christ said, “Wisdom is justified of her children.”
(b) The Source of Wisdom. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights.” No mistake can be made as to the origin of wisdom or to the beneficent character of its Bestower. His nature is without variableness and there is no change in His decision to bestow good gifts. The words “variable” and “turning” are used exclusively by James, and have somewhat of an astronomical flavor about them, being applied to heavenly luminaries, also the word “shadow” is associated with the moon darkening the sun’s disc in an eclipse. There is no variation of the noon and night in the Father’s generosity, no summer and winter in His goodness, no high or low tide in His love, and no tropic and arctic zone in His bounty. He ever abides constant, remains consistent and dwells changelessly amid the tranquil calm of Eternity. He is timeless in His renown, tireless in His resolve, and endless in His resource. Every attribute of His effulgent and immutable being is infinite. “Science but deals with the mutability of phenomena,” whereas faith rests on the immutability of God.
The Father Generates. “Of His own will begat He us by the Word of truth.” The will of God initiates the plan, while the Word of God is the instrumental power in bringing about new birth; or, to use Peter's statement, regeneration is secured by the incorruptible seed which is the Word of God. Once quickened by the Word and initiated into life, we are maintained by the wisdom of that Word, molded for our service and marked by our obedience to its directions. The character and capacity imparted make the recipients become “a kind of first‑fruits” of His creatures. This statement simply means that we become a true specimen of the same; the figure in the Old Testament was associated with consecration, cooperation and consecutive harvest.
The consecration of the sheaf of first‑fruits indicated that God was the originator and owner of the sheaf. That is also true of the life He imparts to the regenerate. If we recognize that we are God's very own, the act of faith will be followed by an attitude of fidelity. We should yield to His mastery fully, wholly and continually.
The cooperation suggests fields white already to harvest. The Lord requires laborers; the Redeemer solicits reapers, while the gracious Saviour calls gatherers to garner the sheaves. As trustees of divine truth, we are expected to testify faithfully and resolutely and “in due season we shall reap if we faint not.”
The consecutive harvest. The first‑fruits foreshadow the flourishing grain and formidable crops. The first sheaf was a foretaste of the fullness that was to come in, the sheaves that followed were similar in kind to the first and suggested the great family that will one day be conformed to the image of the Son. “Christ the first‑fruits, afterward they that are Christ's at His coming.”
(c) The Sympathy of Wisdom. The regeneration is followed by the reception of the Word. The right relationship to the truth of God enables one to be swift and to be slow. (v. 19) Silent contemplation and solitary communion are indispensable to vigorous Christian life. We need to carry out His instruction promptly and perseveringly.
Reception is to be followed by resoluteness; the subjective side of the Christian life is not enough; there are many things we are to put away which reminds us of II Cor. 7:1.
Evil is described by James as filthiness (rhuparia), a word which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Resoluteness is to be followed by reality. Christ said the quality of meekness inherits not an account of the perishing parchments of time, but on the ground of rightful claim of a life linked with Christ. This virtue assures consistent demeanor in sanctified service and in spiritual sympathy, yea, it is the factor that opens the door to the engrafted Word. James has a number of words in His vocabulary which He uses exclusively; engraft is one of these. If the Word is so implanted in us, it becomes an integral part of our life. This is one thing above all that should be enshrined in our hearts, for the Word is our power for comprehension, conquest and conformity to the will of God.
Reality is accomplished by responsibility. We are expected to be doers and not hearers only. Faith furnishes the fruit and also saves us from being defrauded and deluded by false reasoning. If we look and see and turn away without being urged to action, this is self‑deception. We may behold ourselves under some powerful address, but fail to act upon our convictions. We are made practical by peering into and by practicing this perfect law of liberty. (v. 25) Such law is not a yoke of bondage, but is a guarantee that ensures liberty. We have been granted liberty to peer into the profound mysteries of Godhead and into the great purpose which angels were eager to grasp. (I Pet. 1:12)
Let us stop and stoop and steadfastly scan the clear crystal verities of God, for with Him is no shadow of turning. Creeds must be turned into deeds, beliefs into behavior, vision into virtue, if we are to be blessed. The Word exhorts us to participate in the work of witness‑bearing, and when we respond our Lord will empower with energy, endow with beauty, and engrace with purity.
THE LUST OF INDULGENCE
The strong forces that oppose faith by warring against wisdom and resisting revealed truth are clearly exposed in the first chapter. They present a weighty argument in favor of regeneration being a veritable necessity. The lust of the flesh, the mind of the flesh and the will of the flesh were the basic cause of Israel's defeats in the wilderness. All these are plainly in evidence in James' warning; the matter of conquering doubtful characteristics, of triumphing over vacillating tendencies, or the suppression of unholy sympathies are not in themselves enough. We need a change so radical that the only remedy is to be born all over again. Christ said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Such a nature expresses a disgruntled disposition towards spiritual things.
(a) The Duplicity of Lust.
The displeasure displayed in trial is proverbial. When we suffer we are full of complaints and criticisms and are forever asking why God does not remove trouble and pain if He is Almighty.
The doubt described. The figure of the rise and fall of waves with their undulation and fluctuation vividly portrays the varying moods of the doubter. The main features of doubt are common the world over; members of this family when they speak are easily recognized by their familiar accent, they openly deny concrete evidence, they willfully disregard cumulative witness, and then ostentatiously demand some sensational or supernatural demonstration to prove to their senses the matter in question.
The double‑minded disqualified. Double‑mindedness simply means having a heart and a heart. The regularity, uniformity and ability of the warriors of Zebulun express convincingly that they were not double-minded. (I Chr. 12:33) Those dominated by this disposition can accommodate themselves to a religious conference or a racecourse, a picture matinee or a prayer meeting. Such lives are spent in unrest and prayers are unanswered. Lives so lived are marked by uncertainty, indefiniteness and indecision.
The defeated disapproved. Those who fail to bear up under the test are never bedecked with the prize. Enduring temptation is a valid evidence of love's victory, for "charity endureth all things." (I Cor. 13:7)
Fascinating frauds and delusive designs are the invention of the enemy to fool and foil the highly endowed. When the glamorous glint of the vulgar fails to allure, the devil seeks to attract the soul into the austerities of asceticism. He seeks by every means available to disqualify and determine that we shall be disapproved so that we will be denied the crown of immutability, felicity, victory and glory.
(b) The Deceit of Lust.
The deceptive desires. To be drawn away by lust leads to tragic loss. Our worst enemy dwells within. Lusts, passions, vices, desires, selfishnesses must be subjected to the guillotine. How easy it is to make excuses for our pretension, evasion or omission under the guise of acting for convenience or expedience so that we deceive ourselves. Christ can make us more than conquerors in these matters and deliver us from the things that despoil and demoralize. When lust conceives, the unholy progeny is stillborn, an offering of death; the figure is terrible. Temptation is a traitor, enticement a murderess, while allurement is a destroyer. The gilded bait leads to grim bondage, dire slavery and to cruel death.
From traitorous lust,
And tyrannizing sin,
From all that doth disgust,
And mar the soul within,
Christ sets at liberty
And fits us for the strife,
Empowering with new life,
That flows from Calvary.
In view of this lust after indulgence, what a need there is for the influence of light, the insight of wisdom, the impregnability of truth, and for incessant watchfulness, if we are to be an honor to the Father of lights Who hath begotten us as a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. Otherwise we shall perforce be cramped within our human limitations, bounded with mists, blinded with tears, baffled by mysteries and bludgeoned with griefs.
“Wisdom is profitable to direct.”
THE LAW OF GUIDANCE
The inter-relationships of life require a standard for guidance and a system of government. “No man liveth unto himself.” We are units in a racial commonwealth where the highest values are not to be found in attaining personal perfection, but in practical sympathy, mutual helpfulness and sociable ministries. James contends that if a right relationship with God does really exist we shall be able to recognize it by its doings. The apostle heard Christ say, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” and so presses the matter home. Those who seek to relegate the teachings of this message to a transitory period at the beginning of the church age seem to overlook the fact that the injunctions given are governed by the great deciding events of the Lord’s second coming.
Chapter 2: WISDOM AND WAYWARDNESS - The instruction of ch. 2 is especially directed to maintain the corporate life of Christian fellowship. The teaching is not merely reasonable but redemptive, splendidly real and copiously beneficial. Therefore it is free from the uncertainty of untried socialistic propaganda. The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ works, but although the common class distinctions, outwardly expressed in costly apparel and wretched garments, are ignored, there is no ignoring of inward faith, whether it be expressed in the wealthy Abraham or the wanton Rahab. Here again as in the preceding chapter wisdom is seen to be the greatest asset which secures in this case:
(1) A steadfast Christian attitude against partiality; (vs. 1‑5)
(2) A sincere compassion toward the poor of God's choice; (vs. 6‑7)
(3) A sacred contemplation of the whole royal law; (vs. 8‑10)
(4) A suitable control over outward conduct; (vs. 11‑13)
(5) A sanctifying constraint over inward temper; (vs. 14‑17)
(6) A sagacious cognizance as to the necessity of good works; (vs.18‑20)
(7) A simple conviction about faith and works justifying; (vs. 21‑25)
(8) A strong confidence that faith is always seen by its actions. (v. 26)
When we add these advantages to those of the foregoing section we become the more impressed of the need of heavenly wisdom. No matter what our opinions and impressions may be we need the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to interpret God's word and will.
The Royal Law. (vs. 1‑8) We are immediately introduced to a striking contrast between the fair glory of our Lord and the fading glory of man. Material grandeur and greatness in social status are all too often allied with a tendency to oppress the less fortunate. Respect of persons is spoken of here in the plural number for it takes many forms. Such partiality is out of harmony with the character of Christ, Who is spoken of in v. 1, as “the glory.” We should note that both James and John, who were Christ's brethren according to the flesh, speak of Him as being “the glory.” Allegiance to such an One does not develop the temper of autocracy, nor does it engender a tendency towards democracy, but teaches the ideal of theocracy, the rule of God in the hearts of men. True faith acknowledges our Lord's authority and acts under His governance and guidance. Christ is the manifest substance of the symbol of God's presence that rested on the tabernacle as the Shekinah glory. This formed the very center of the camp of Israel and figured what Christ is in reality to His church. Therefore, the disparities of social relationship such as servant and master, rich and poor, free and bond are excluded as accidentals, and believers are knit together in a liberal brotherly spirit. Right relationship to Christ causes a different view to be taken of our fellow men. We cannot be partisans in cliques, circles and parties and be partakers of the Spirit of Christ; such a condition is wholly incongruous. Christian conceptions are based on essential things, not on incidental matters. God is no respecter of persons. (Rom. 2:11; Col. 3:2) Pharisees and Herodians were compelled to observe this feature in the life of our Lord. (Matt. 22:16)
Following the specific exhortation, James uses a simple illustration in vs. 2‑4. He shows that to despise the poor is to deny the faith. Christ disallowed relationships that were national, tribal, social and natural, by declaring, “I came to do the will of Him that sent Me,” and “whosoever shall do the will of My Father, which is in heaven, the same is My mother and sister and brother.” The Old Testament reveals that mothers are born for comfort, sisters for confidence and brothers for comradeship. Christ found in His disciples the fulfillment of these nearest and dearest relationships, because, with Him, they had made their method and manner of life the doing of the will of God. Christ's regard is not for gaudy raiment, gold rings and great riches, but for regenerate lives and righteous deeds. The wisdom of God prevents partiality being shown to others, promotes pity toward the poor and prompts conformity to the will of God.
An ugly charge is made in v. 6 against the rich. Scripture does not teach that it is wrong to be wealthy, for Abraham, the patriarchal pilgrim, and David, the prevailing prince, were both wealthy men. The danger arises when the wealth controls the man instead of the man controlling the wealth. Nehemiah’s resources did not rule him as wealth controlled the rich young ruler. When riches possess us, God's claims are obscured. There is a threefold indictment made against the tyrannical rich in v. 6 which accuses them of dishonoring the poor, domineering over the needy and thereby deriding the honorable name by which they are called.
Some have endeavored to turn the keen edge of this message by applying it to a transition period at the beginning of church history, or by relegating it to a kingdom age yet to come. By so doing, they forget that the coming of the Lord is to be the stimulus to energize, the shining beacon to illumine, the radiant hope to cheer and the reliable charter to direct. James is dealing with the real and the unreal, the true and the false, the wheat and the tares, Christianity and churchianity, both of which are to grow together until the harvest, therefore, he demands that we heed this royal law of love which defines our duty of showing sympathy and succor to our neighbor. (v. 8) Because this has been affirmed by the King of kings, it is binding on all true subjects. Respect of persons is precluded under this new relationship.
The Replete Law. (vs. 9‑11) Each of these sections on law is specially selected to expose the sin of not loving one's neighbor. Under Christ's summing‑up in the Gospels, the law is one although it has many commandments. If we break the face of a decagonal glass prism, the whole is marred and spoiled. Old Testament law had its place and purpose in setting forth the standard of what God required from man, but it was powerless to enable him to meet that requirement.
James is not reverting to the subject in order to enjoin it upon Christians or enforce it as an authoritative code for the present day; he refers to it for the sake of applying its precepts on those who claim to be what they are not; neither the blessing, inheritance, righteousness or life of the Christian faith is secured by keeping the Old Testament law. All spiritual benefits were pledged by an irrevocable promise, unconditional and unalterable, 430 years before the law was given. Christ, therefore, is the power and pattern of the Christian life and secures the emancipation, supplies the energy and sets the example of a love to others that is without partiality. Legal love did not and does not save; we are saved by divine love expressed in grace.
The Retributive Law. (vs. 12‑26) The law of liberty, which is Christ's grand free rule of life, not only governs our lives in relation to God's will, but is the code by which we are to be tried. (Chs. 1:25; 2:12) Every Christian, everywhere, at all times, is free to do His will, and because His will is infinite, this is the largest liberty possible. As Christ taught in the Gospels, we may be led into indifference by our indolence or indulgence, which He likened to putting our light under a bed or under a bushel. The standard of life that Christ has made possible is not an impracticable ideal. The person who loves God will love his fellow men. These two evidences are the external expression of a regenerate life. We learn to know His will through circumstances, by conscience and by communion. There is no need to be as the horse or mule, which needs the circumstantial tug of the rein or rope. (Eph. 5:17; Psa. 32:9) He is able to direct us by conscience, through the revealed word of truth, but, best of all is the instruction that comes through communion. Listening to Him in silent attention, as the two from Emmaus did, will produce the burning heart and glowing passion.
The enquiry of v. 14 is followed by a concrete example in vs. 15-16. Where pity and love are affected, practical help results. A profession of love unattended with service is mere sentiment. Faith is a living power which promotes liberality. The very promptings of this faith are the products of love. Here again Christ is the Author, Pioneer, and Captain. Faith is not a verbal claim or intellectual assent, there must be some evidence and expression in what we do, otherwise it is merely a nominal and hypothetical thing, which neither justifies nor saves. When a person is ill‑clad and hungry, the offer of food and raiment is more fitting than unsubstantial words. A vain compassion that does not minister comforts lacks all fidelity and virtue, and is as dead in reality as the body without the spirit. Works are the only evidence of faith's existence, and although one may claim to have it, nobody can show it apart from works. Even demons, who believe, shudder. Can we say we believe and remain stationary?
James does not use the terms of Paul about Jew and Gentile being baptized into one body, but he gives a striking illustration of this great truth by introducing Rahab, the harlot, and Abraham, the Hebrew, who were alike incorporated into the household of God on the principle of faith. Two of the outstanding features of Christianity are expressed in these two characters: a higher affinity in relationship and a nobler association in fellowship. The immortality of the one and the identity of the other are unsurpassed in any of earth's societies. All human orders cater for the disparities of the low‑born and high‑bred. The secret of this spiritual generation is achieved by the breath of God. (ch. 1:26) Christ has lifted the status of womanhood to a place of sanctity and honor. No other great teacher has included women in such high regard and holy relationship. Class cleavage, race conflict and sex contention are done away in Christ. By the one principle of faith both characters here named entered the fullness of life. Therefore not merely the rich and the poor, free and bond, are united as at the commencement of the chapter, but male and female, Jew and Gentile, are also made one in Him.
There are too many Ishmaels in the church today and contention is rife. The ritual adherence of the letter portrays legality, but the racial affinity of the Spirit perfects love.
To Abraham was given the seal of circumcision for assurance, to Rahab was given the scarlet cord of acceptance. Abraham received the three strangers and sent them on their way; Rahab received the messengers and sent them another way. In New Testament times, Martha received Him into her house, Zacchaeus received Him into his house; “To as many as received Him to them gave he the power to become the sons of God.” In summing up the whole matter, James declares, “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” This simile needs reversing in the application. Faith is the Spirit, and works, the body. A faith that never moves a limb is a corpse; movement is the test of life, just as surely as motive is the test of love and manifestation the test of light.
“All may of Thee partake; nothing can be so mean,
Which with this tincture, (for Thy sake), will not glow bright and clean.
This is the famous STONE that turneth all to gold,
For that which God doth touch and own, cannot for less be sold.”
THE LURE OF AFFLUENCE
Wealth has a perpetual fascination because it furnishes so much for which the natural heart craves in the securing of position and high station, in obtaining the requisites and recreation for pleasure, in the maintaining of physical benefits and comforts, and in assuring the patronage and homage of the general public. The great tendency of wealth is to create an independent and imperious spirit which disregards the feelings of others and discards a salvation which is proffered to all as a gift to faith. One of the great calamities that has intruded itself into our church fellowship is the granting to unspiritually-minded men of wealth, positions of administration for which the one necessary qualification is spirituality. Those who have sought divine wisdom and obtained it will not be party to such incongruities. We should never allow garments, gloves and gestures to usurp the place of Christly virtues. True worth is not in wealth but in a worthy character. One hallmark of true discipleship in this chapter is faith which worketh by love.
Respect of Persons. Natural characteristics are not permitted to intrude in the realm of spiritual companionship; naught of the status or station of what we are naturally has any right or claim to intrude in Christian fellowship. The whole chapter is one of contrast between rich and poor, law and faith, flesh and spirit, Jew and Gentile. Therefore we would say there was ample room for partisanship, but James is dealing with transformation which is not only considered in its positional features but its practical friendships. Though Christ was rich yet for our sakes He became poor, that we, through His poverty, might be rich.
Respect of persons is not a commendable trait in Christian conduct, but a taint that savors of compromise. The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is a potential energy that leaps the barriers of class and clan and loves all for whom Christ died.
The Reproach of the Poor. There is perhaps no country in the world where this attitude is more acute than in India. The greatest possible disparity exists between the Brahmin and the Pariah; the former claims to be born a god, but pity for the poor is derided whereas Scripture declares this is God‑likeness; therefore the claim they make is contradicted. Intellectuality and illiteracy, wealth and wretchedness are neither recommendations of merit nor handicaps that menace where divine grace abounds. On one occasion a Pariah and Brahmin came to a dispensary each seeking a remedy for the same type of a common fever. The Pariah, who arrived first, received a bottle of a standard mixture within sight of the Brahmin, who heard the instructions that were given. When the Brahmin came forward and stated his malady and saw that he was to receive a bottle of the same remedy, he vigorously protested, “I am a Brahmin,” he said to the dispenser with great emphasis. “Am I to be given the same medicine as that untouchable?” The dispenser replied, “We are not dealing with Brahmins and Pariahs here, but with fever. If you object to the treatment, you are at liberty to take your departure.” To this the Brahmin replied, “I will take the remedy and go.”
God has left no room for the reproach of the poor in redemption. Christ has offered the same sacrifice for all, “for that all have sinned.” There is no greater romance in all history than the romance of redemption. Christ came to substantiate His claim, vindicate the law, liquidate the debt and consummate a union; this fourfold task is illustrated in the Book of Ruth.
Human pride must be displaced. Where the poor are despised there is lack of wisdom. God is single‑minded, unchanging in power, unvarying in truth and unabating in love. “He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.” We cannot profess to have dedicated our lives to Him if we despise the poor and reproach the needy.
THE LIFE OF EFFLUENCE
Effluence is that which emanates and flows out from a life and by its character exercises a helpful or harmful influence. Here again, “wisdom is profitable to direct.”
In chapter one, Wisdom grants light to shield the soul in trial and maintain the heart in loyalty to truth. In chapter two, Wisdom glorifies love and welds the links that form the chain of Christian unity. In chapter three, Wisdom graces liberty and wields freedom as a scepter of peace and prudence.
Christ Himself is Wisdom's fullness personified in its fairest beauties, faultless qualities and fadeless glories. All He ever spake was the essence of true witness and the substance of transparent wisdom. “Never man spake like this man.” His words were the kindest ever spoken by kingliness, the gentlest ever uttered by greatness, the friendliest ever whispered in faithfulness, the mightiest ever expressed in meekness, the loveliest ever voiced in lowliness, the sweetest ever assured by stateliness, the humblest ever communicated by holiness, and the richest ever framed by righteousness.
Saintliness is simplicity. The tongue naturally is a complexity, and only after the Spirit has remade us can the tongue be controlled and made to contribute to the mutual well‑being of the household of faith. Then only will the glorious character and gracious conduct of heavenly wisdom find room for expressing her lofty motives and lovely ministries.
Chapter 3: WISDOM AND WILFULNESS - The intention of this chapter is specifically designed to introduce the chief potential factors in the maintaining or marring of Christian liberty. The tongue is the index to both the regenerate and degenerate life. By its instrumentality we minister or misrepresent the truth, magnify or mutilate love and maintain or menace Christian liberty. The wise respond to the divine will, the willful refuse and rebel against it.
Wisdom is not only the key of the castle of light but the Crown of the character of love, contenting the heart with peace. Wisdom sighs when she sees her would‑be advocates attempting to promote her interests by the use of natural or carnal means.
In this case Wisdom supplies a discernment and discrimination which teaches the soul and trains the spirit to exercise: —
(1) A sensitive care against the spirit of assumption; (vs. 1‑2)
(2) A special command over the powers of the tongue; (vs. 3-5)
(3) A subduing consideration in view of the perils and possibilities latent within us; (vs. 6‑8)
(4) A standardized consistency in the use of words and speech; (vs. 9‑12)
(5) A splendid competence in exhibiting the habits of a regenerate life; (vs. 13-16)
(6) A selective choice of the seven virtues that crown grace with glory and comeliness; (v. 17)
(7) A supreme contribution to the welfare of harmony and peace. (v. 18)
The accumulative values of this chapter compel us to recall the description of Prov. 8. “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence… pride and arrogancy and the evil way and the forward mouth do I hate ... By me kings reign and princes decree justice. I love them that love me; and they that seek me early shall find me. Riches and honor are with me, yea, durable riches and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, yea than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver. I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment: that I may cause those that love me to inherit substance, and I will fill their treasures!”
The Helpful Word. Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop, but a good word maketh it glad. There is no vocation fraught with so much danger as teaching and preaching, yet there is no function we are called to fulfill that is furnished with such dynamic as the declaration of truth in the power of the Spirit.
James had heard the true teacher of men, the Prince of pundits, the infallible Instructor, in comparison with whom all others are faulty. As one keenly observant he saw the latent powers in every life, powers that could be perverted and prostituted until they wrought havoc and tragedy. On the other hand he was confident that under the control and command of Christ, these same capacities could be made the channel for exhibiting prudence and expressing perfectness.
In order to impress his instruction, James was more fond of illustrating than of insisting. He introduces the horse's bridle, the ship's rudder, the spark and stubble, the storm and steersman, the training and taming of beasts and birds, the complexities of conduct as compared with fountains and fruits and their sources.
Herein lies ample material to fill more than all the space at our disposal. Man's tongue, or the faculty of speech, is treated as something distinct from himself, implying the presence of a higher force of reason-consciousness. The Spirit of God is viewed as a hand upon the helm of life. In the regenerate life, the tongue is reckoned as a Holy Spirit member or instrument, and should therefore be reserved and kept solely for holy uses.
The verses 1‑12 thrice call on us to “Behold,” and they deal with the tongue and its dominion, (vs. 1-4) the tongue and its danger, (vs. 5-6) the tongue and its difficulty, (vs. 7-8) and the tongue and its deceitfulness. (vs. 9‑12) The reference made to teaching in verse one has no bearing on the teacher of mathematics, chemistry, or any of the arts or sciences, but relates to matters of highest value, namely, moral instruction. The methods adopted in mathematical or intellectual tuition cannot be adapted to moral realities. Even superior intellectuality is not a credential in qualifying for this function. God alone is the reservoir and resource of moral instruction. No man is able through superiority to set the standards for his fellows. Christ is our Guide and Guardian in this and the gift of His wisdom becomes our credential; Christ's authority was not compulsive or coercive but was exercised by virtue of genuine holiness.
He teaches through the medium of babes and birds, flowers and fruits, bread and wine, lambs and lilies, sacramental symbols by which He impresses us with the reality of His actual presence. By these our understanding is instructed and we are led to comprehend the deep things of God.
When the taste buds of the papillae on the tongue are destroyed, a person cannot detect the flavors of fruits or foods. Where ophthalmic troubles derange and color blindness exists, the beautiful shades of sunsets do not enrapture. When the olfactory organ is diseased the fragrance of flowers and delicate perfumes cannot be detected. A scientist with ophthalmic troubles may challenge your statement about the scent of a deep, golden rose. To prove fragrance does not exist he may dissect the bloom, and tabulate each part of the flower, and say, “There is every item that goes to compose it. Where is your perfume?”
Whatever we may state by virtue of observation and common sense, morality is something more. The natural man dodges the issue and refuses to face the facts. “Something lives in every hue, Christless eyes have never seen.” Christ said to Jewish leaders, “Ye have not this life abiding in you.” No one can know or nourish such life within the walls of his own brain. Regeneration is essential if we are to have moral capacity to approve and appreciate spirituality.
None of us is perfectly pure, wholly white, or crystal clear in moral rectitude, for in many things we all offend.
The Tongue and its Dominion. (vs. 1-4) The swaying and guiding, directing and governing features of life are likened to bit and bridle, rudder and helm.
The illustrations used have not diminished in forcefulness during the centuries, but have been enhanced a thousandfold, for the dimensions of the ships of today were never dreamed of at the time of James. Among nautical facilities the navigator knows of no greater factor in guiding his ship than the helm. The course taken is still under the control of the steersman's hand and the vessel is directed to its destination.
The tongue is a little member but destiny is determined by the words we speak. “If you shalt confess Me before men I also will confess thee before My Father which is in heaven.” “... for with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:10)
The tongue is the greatest of the talents God has imparted to mankind, “He that offereth praise, glorifieth Me.” (Psa. 50:23)
The Tongue and its Danger. (vs. 5‑6) The tongue although small is tremendous in potentiality, as the spark to the ripened harvest fields and the ranging forests.
The propensities that make its exercise dangerous are its powers of boasting and burning. A sinister doubt, a sordid tale or a silly remark have stifled aspiration and stained and wrecked many a life. Evil conversation corrupts good manners. Foul words contaminate and false sayings exasperate those who are deceived thereby.
The scorching power of the tongue is even more destructive and can char to a cinder the sterling qualities of a noble character. The flashing spark and flaming system show what incendiaries can do, and the tongue is the most dangerous incendiary in social history.
Fed by the fuel of envy and hate it becomes a volcano belching forth its destructive lava that works havoc among innumerable lives. The infernal acid of the tongue perpetrates abnormal atrocities, mars honorable names, maligns noble reputations, defames virtuous service and blackmails good characters. How despicable are its devilish devices. How earnestly we should pray, as David did, “set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth.” (Psa. 141:3)
The Tongue and its Difficulty. (vs. 7-8) The member in question is next shown to be untamable and uncontrollable.
James here introduces figures from zoology, ornithology and ichthyology to show how incorrigible the tongue really is.
The difficulties exist among all men from the palace to the poor‑house.
An instance of the use that can be made of words to disguise a real intention is strikingly illustrated in the characteristic answer Queen Elizabeth gave in connection with the trial and execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1584. Walsingham had discovered the intrigue of Mary Stuart and unraveled the plot in connection with which Parma of Spain had received the sanction of Pope Gregory XIII to invade England. Finally, when it came to ascertaining from Elizabeth whether Mary Stuart was to be executed, she dismissed the messengers with the words: “If I should say unto you that I mean not to grant your petition, by my faith I should say unto you more than perhaps I mean, and if I should say unto you I mean to grant your petition, I should then tell you more than it is fit for you to know, and so I must deliver you an answer answerless.” Davidson consulted the council and resolved to execute the warrant. Mary Stuart's execution took place shortly afterwards, and, when Elizabeth saw the effect the news had on London, she resorted to hypocrisy and falsehood, and expressed her incomparable sorrow at the lamentable event, treated poor Davidson shamefully, endeavoring at the same time to exonerate herself by declaring she did not wish the deed to be done.
The Tongue and its Deceit. (vs. 9‑12) Deceit and duplicity destroy confidence. God Himself is single-minded in His unchanging power, unvarying truth, unending love and unabating willingness to save and satisfy. Therefore if we are wise we will rely on His Word with an unwavering faith. God is wholly trustworthy. Power without truth may be relentless, truth without love may be pitiless; love without will may be purposeless.
God never speaks to deceive; therefore we can depend on His Word.
The tongue indicates dependability or duplicity of character. Grapes are not gathered from thorns nor figs from thistles, by their fruit ye shall know them, and the fruit of the lips is the most prolific of all.
Sweet water and bitter cannot flow from a single fountain, and blessing and cursing from the same tongue are incongruous.
The noxious weeds of spite prove most expensive to those who allow them to grow. Dr. Johnson once said: “Sir, a man has no more right to say an uncivil thing than to do an uncivil act, no more right to say a rude thing to another than to knock him down.”
We possess a member capable of the manliest and of the meanest, the most helpful and the most harmful. Our members need to be surrendered to our Redeemer. The tongue needs a governor, there are but two offering, one will steer to infinite heights, the other to infernal depths. Be wise, choose Christ and be free from the control that results in the cultivation of the seven nauseous fruits enumerated in vs. 14‑16.
The Heavenly Wisdom. (vs. 17‑18) We are now conducted to the holy heights of the heavenly Himalayas to view the seven sun-kissed peaks of wisdom's majestic mountains. These glistening glories are as pure as the eternal snows and as perfect as the great white throne of the everlasting God.
The grandeur of the description is designed to draw out our aspiration and admiration by the loftiness of wisdom's message and the loveliness of her motives.
The self‑revelation of God in Christ is the personification of wisdom, and, to all who believe, He is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Yea, Christ is the secret and source of all blessedness, the root and resource of all joy, the ground and guarantee of all hope, the theme and tenor of spiritual song and the mainspring and motive of all service.
Wisdom's glorious Character. (v. 17) Because wisdom is an attribute inherent in deity, there can be no adequate understanding of her great moral qualities apart from revelation. There is a venerability in the august description of wisdom's character which outvies intellectuality, because everything of moral glory and spiritual goodness comprises her nature.
Christ's headship of the church is repeatedly stressed, in the New Testament, by virtue of which control He is made unto us wisdom.The excellencies depicted in ver. 17 are the replica of what He is. The features consist of purity, peaceableness, patience, persuasiveness, productiveness, prudence and propriety.
(1) Pure. This implies to be chaste and absolutely free from all pollution, without taint in the slightest sense from any sensual sins. Purity is the fixed, foremost and final quality of wisdom's character. There should be no dishonesty, infidelity and immorality among professing Christians, for these things do not savor of the wisdom that is from above. People in general have an appreciation of the need for pure air, pure water and pure food; then why not place a premium on pure wisdom? No bloom that is seen bursting in virgin beauty from its tender bud, no morn beheld breaking in crystal clearness in the eastern sky, no snowdrift we may admire scintillating its silvery sheen in the sunlight, is as pure as heavenly wisdom. If we would comprehend the manifold qualities of this great gift, spiritual vision becomes the soul of capacity and the seal of reality. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
(2) Peaceable. This means an absence of all vaunting, conceit or arrogance. Peace is the virtue that conquers by gaining confidence, not by contention. The only other occurrence of the word peaceable in the New Testament is in Heb. 12:11, where it is classified as the fruit of righteousness. Even angry waters can be quieted by a breathless stillness. This characteristic subdues contention by an irresistible calm. The very nature of peaceableness is that of harmony, agreement and concord, like one prevailing symphony played by a master musician, or the pervading aroma of a cluster of fragrant roses in a conservatory. When the volitional, intellectual and emotional natures are working in unison there is sure to be peace. Faith, hope and love are there deftly blended and balanced. The disposition is no longer feverish and the demeanor no longer reckless. Peace may be silent but is never sullen for its silence is more eloquent than song. This quality of wisdom is wholly proof against malice, envy and slander.
(3) Patience. The third feature refers to a virtue that adequately meets trying circumstances and does not press for its rights. The word translated “gentle” in our Authorized Version is rendered “moderation” in Phil. 4:5, and “patient” in I Tim. ch. 3. The underlying idea is that of forbearance which describes a disposition that is courteous, considerate and composed, the evidence of good breeding. Trials go to vindicate this characteristic, but never vanquish it. Patience will not inflict on others the things from which she guards herself. She is never displayed to better advantage than when dealing with a provoking child, vexing servant or trying guest.
(4) Persuasiveness. Easy to be entreated, easy to be approached. So then wisdom induces but does not impel. Perfume arrests the attention both of the indifferent and the thoughtful. The mind will be garnished with brilliant ideas and glowing ideal, together with the reasons why they should be attempted and achieved. This friend of the soul appeals to all that is manly and womanly and attracts toward spiritual realities. She does not upbraid but yields to entreaty. Her method is not that of using a spiderweb to catch a fly but of furnishing a feast for the famishing. Persuasiveness has many resources, is resolute of purpose and exerts a refining influence on all her companions.
(5) Productiveness. Full of mercy and good fruits. This means to be bountifully prolific in goodness, not batten but beneficial. The inner realities that proceed are now effective in what they express. Is it possible to have any richer ministry than that of mercy? We are indebted to the mercy of divine wisdom for all God's goodness. These supplies assure instruction, direction, provision and all that is necessary to qualify us for a service of honor. All creation expresses the fullness of divine mercy. The fragrance we inhale, the symphonies we hear, the colors we see, the sympathies we sense, the fruits we enjoy, the flowers we admire, the friendships we form, are so bountifully bestowed. There are no purer waves, sweeter springs, nor fresher streams than those of mercy's crystal waters.
“Think before you speak — before you say the biting word;
The word that burns and blisters, the gibe by passion stirred.
Pause before you bruise some helpless soul deserving blame;
Try to understand, and do not let your temper flame.
Show mercy if you have to judge — one day it may come true
That you’ll be glad if someone else is merciful to you.”
(6) Prudence. Wisdom’s nature knows no variance, although discreet she is not disagreeable, although cautious she is never crafty. There is no wavering or hesitancy in her stately deportment. The two completing qualities are stated negatively and throw into clearer light the positive character of wisdom’s strength and virtue. We read in the great declaration of the book of Proverbs, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence.” Prudence weighs things in the balances of eternity and sets a right estimate on all that is essential. She makes full use of her opportunities, rightly values, never consorts with falsity or compromise. She gives to life sound judgment and discretion, and is free from prejudicial bias and flattery. Prudence has an open countenance and finds her chief delight in hospitality, liberality and veracity.
(7) Propriety. There is none of the hypocrisy of deceit or pretense in the sincere character of wisdom. Her deportment is becoming and her disposition free of duplicity. She is never caught feigning and would rather deserve credit without receiving any praise, than do wrong to obtain recognition or distinction. How possible it is to seem good without being good and to gain reputation by false means, but wisdom is honest and prefers to hazard reputation rather than ruin deservedness. There is no fraudulence or spuriousness in her records. Her tastes are not perverted nor her appetites depraved. She is keen to observe, difficult to allure and hard to seduce. In reflecting upon the variegated character of wisdom the statement that James uses in ch. 1:5, which appears so ordinary, flames up with an intense and gorgeous brilliance. This is certainly the greatest deficiency in Christian life today. The full display of wisdom's venerableness and maturity was manifest in the life of the Son of Man. His purity was untarnished, His peaceableness unquestioned, His patience unexcelled, His persuasiveness unequaled, His productiveness unparalleled, His prudence unqualified and His propriety unimpeachable, — “Who of God is made unto us wisdom.”
Let us therefore not insult Him by reducing His dignity to the level of a good man, or His nobility to that of a renowned teacher.
THE LOVE OF LICENSE
We claim more license in speech than in any other realm, and that is why complete control here is declared to be the acme of perfection. “I can say what I like!” is a very common expression, and is answered by Christ when He said, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
Even as eyes are spoken of as the windows of the soul, so words are the reflectors of the spirit. This is true whether they be sublime or shameful words, assuring or angry words, useful or ugly words, words that bless or blasts that inspire peace or incite to war.
Tennyson said, “Irrespective of how high a man’s success may have lifted him, he is never so secure but that in the brightest hour of his attainment he can be discouraged and plunged into gloom by a few words.”
An Untamable Tongue. James likens the tongue to a deadly poison, and it matters not whether poison be placed in a valuable cut glass bottle or embellished with attractive labels, it still does its deadly work.
Some speak withering words about those less fortunate in life than themselves, and although good breeding fails to justify it the practice is all too common. There is no code of society that sanctions such methods of speech but they flourish, nevertheless.
Some folk try to lower others in the estimation of their friends. When William Carey had exceeded the accomplishment of most men of his day, he was invited to dine with the Governor‑General of Bengal. A young British Staff Officer, who noticed that Carey was the object of the Governor's admiration, rudely butted in and asked Mr. Carey if it were not true that he had once been a shoemaker. Carey shook his head and then surprised his incredulous questioner by saying, “Not even a shoemaker, sir, just a cobbler,” thus deliberately belittling his past as a chide to snobbery.
An Untenable Temper. We are told that all anger should be put away, for actually it is but an ugly form of self‑indulgence exercised under the impulse of hell. When Christ was reviled, “He reviled not again.” Incrimination is cheap and very common universally. Shimei hurled his contempt at David during the darkest hour of tragedy, yet David restrained Abishai from revenge.
In the sphere of bad temper, words spoken supply a life‑size portrait of true character. If Christians took this matter to heart and acted becomingly under provocation it would demonstrate to the world an irrefutable argument in favor of Christ and Christianity.
Can you put the spider‑web back on the tree
If once it's been swept away?
Can you put the apple again on the bough
That fell at your feet today?
Can you put the lily back on the stem
And cause it to live and grow?
Can you mend the butterfly's broken wing
That you crushed with a hasty blow?
Can you put the bloom again on the grape ‑
Or the grape again on the vine?
Can you put the dewdrops back on the flower,
And make them to sparkle and shine?
Can you put the kernel back in the nut
Or the broken egg in the shell?
Can you put the honey back in the comb
And cover with wax each cell?
You may think my questions trifling sir
Let me ask another one,
Can a sinful word ever be unsaid,
Or an unkind word undone?
THE LAMP OF CONSCIENCE
Conscience is actually a consciousness of obligation with its attendant conviction of right and wrong, combined with a sensibility of things false or true. Obedience to or abstinence from these dictates may issue in pleasure or pain, repose or remorse. The Old Testament shows that the Spirit is the Lamp of the Lord and Christ the Creator is the true Light which lighteth every man's lamp that cometh into the world. Because He lights this lamp all men begin with a conscious knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil. The conscience may become seared and lose all sensitiveness; on the other hand it may be made pure, good and void of offence.
Chapter 4: WISDOM AND WORLDLINESS - Lest any be tempted to say that the instruction preceding is merely fantasy, novelty and theory, we are immediately conducted into the realm of experience which is both definite and real. The Light that directs, the Love that discerns and the Life that discriminates in the preceding chapters are now followed by the Law that decides. While the echoes of these statements of heavenly wisdom are still ringing in the mind, James conducts us to the bedrock, matter‑of‑fact principles of the Christian life. The superstructure could not be made strong and stable if the foundations were shaky. The precepts are the very plainest in view of the plenteous provision centered in this wisdom. Request in prayer, reliance upon God, resisting the devil, restraining from evil‑speaking, requisites for sound judgment, the recognition of life's uncertainty and other practical realities, are now to engage our attention.
Worldliness caters for appetite, assumption, avarice and ambition; wisdom transforms the temperament and renews the mind, resulting in self‑control, self‑submission, self‑denial and self‑sacrifice. Therefore the Wisdom which is from above:
(1) Safeguards Christians from protracted strife; (vs. 1‑3)
(2) Severs carnal friendships with the world; (vs. 4‑5)
(3) Secures constancy to Christ in all humility; (v. 6)
(4) Shuns complicity with the devil; (vs. 7‑8)
(5) Sighs compassionately because of evil; (vs. 9‑10)
(6) Silences criticism of others; (vs. 11‑12)
(7) Stimulates conformity to God’s will; (vs. 13‑16)
(8) Stirs conviction over neglected duty. (v. 17)
The wisdom received and knowledge assimilated are here reduced to practice. If we are tempted to say, “We be not able,” remember “If any man lack ... let him ask of God.”
(a) Humility in Disposition. (vs. 1‑5) Humility is a quality of spirit or state of mind. It is wholly free from pride and arrogance, a disposition in which there is no spitefulness either in envying the wealthy or scorning the lowly. Humility in the Christian life assures a true estimate of the absolute sovereignty of God, His abounding sufficiency and abiding sympathy, and will therefore lead to bowing down in submission to worship gladly and serve readily. When man's disposition is unsanctified, carnal desires go unsatisfied and lead to protracted and widespread disputes as well as persistent and wrangling skirmishes in daily life. Selfish indulgences engender wrong desires which produce conflict and confusion among the members of the body of Christ, but more than this, they are encamped like hostile forces in the members of the individual, that is, in each organ of reflection, sensation, emotion and action. Wherever they are allowed a camping ground they choke the word, enslave the soul, resist the truth and riot against God. The Holy Spirit alone can subdue them.
Selfish pleasures inaugurate strong desires which are inordinate, and even though we resort to the fighting of such things engendered, we are not by this means furnished with the fullness that satisfies. James gives us the reason why so much so‑called prayer is useless. The facilities of this function, which confer upon man limitless possibilities, are fraught with the greatest dangers and gravest perils. How frequently we betray our deflected desires and selfishnesses of soul by the utterances made in prayer gatherings. Holiness still stands guard at the portals of prayer to protect the spacious beneficences and stupendous amplitudes which are so freely promised and made available to true supplication.
James uses a figure of speech from the most sacred friendship in our social life and speaks of the ugliest of the violations that mar earthly union, namely, adultery. We may write across the forehead of this unholy relapse the word “unfaithfulness.” Therefore our failure in the privilege of prayer can be clearly branded “infidelity.” The self‑gratifying pleasures of the world cause more wastage in the work and welfare of the Gospel than aught else. Unfaithfulness in wish is enough. Whosoever wishes for such things is not only weighed and found wanting, but declared to be the enemy of God. Let us make it our practice constantly every day, all the way, throughout the fray, never to cease praying.
“O Lord, seek us, O Lord, find us in Thy patient care,
Be Thy love before, behind us, round us everywhere.
Lest the god of this world blind us, lest he speak us fair,
Lest he forge a chain to bind us, lest he bait a snare;
Turn not from us, call to mind us, find, embrace us, bear,
Be Thy love before, behind us, round us everywhere.”
In v. 5, the very Spirit that has been made to dwell within yearns tenderly and jealously over us. Should not the husband of the soul be rightfully jealous if we coquette with the world? Human jealousy compels man and drives him to action; Divine jealousy is controlled to achieve the desired purpose. What a threefold picture this portion provides, a yearning God longing to have us all His own, a youthful soul standing at the crossroads, and a yawning maw ready to swallow its victim. Christ alone is enough for His own.
(b) Humility in Devotion. (vs. 6‑10) In the light of God's faithfulness and the tendency of man to fail, the one desirable attitude on our part is to be humble. How graciously these words follow upon the truth of God's jealous yearning! In view of the tremendous possibilities of the tragic tendencies, who is sufficient for these things? The Creator, Christ, is sufficient, and He gives generously in a glorious present giving, as the tense shows.
In the wake of such encouragement there are seven exhortations.
1. “Be subject therefore unto God.” In v. 6 God sets Himself against the proud and here the same figure is used, we are to set ourselves under God's will and power. If we want greater grace, nobler strength and fuller liberty, we must seek a deeper submission and greater subjection to God, the all‑powerful and all‑sufficient.
One of the outstanding features in the life of Joseph was his use of the greatest of all Divine titles in the Old Testament, Elohim, - God. He never once made use of the famous title “Jehovah,” which conveys the idea of God accommodating and adapting Himself to human need, before Whom we bow in the presence of facts which are for our own benefit. The grander designation, "God," which does not refer to relationships, but to reality, was his continual confidence. The name "God" reveals His personal, inherent character of surprising and surpassing glory. This incomparable One is the God Who is great and gracious in His magnificent might, sovereign strength and absolute authority. In Hebrew Elohim is the mystic, majestic plural of intensity and immensity which directs us to the all‑sufficient Deity from Whom all attitudes spring and activities proceed. In His essence He is the effulgence of essential and beneficent purity.
2. “Resist the devil.” To be found on our knees in faith's obedience at the Master's feet is the best way to adequately meet the enemy. How strong and sweet is the music of the pledge, “He will flee from thee.”
3. “Draw nigh to God.” The adversary has already been cast out and Christ our Advocate is now at God's right hand. If we draw near and abide in His presence, the enemy will have no part or right of access to such company and we shall enjoy the fulfillment of the promise of God's nearness.
4. “Cleanse your hands.” How can there be real submission to God, successful resistance to the devil and secret communion in the company of God Himself if defilement and dead works characterize our conduct? Everything detrimental to fellowship must be dispelled.
5. “Purify your hearts.” The word “hagnizo” means to make chaste in opposition to the faithless adulteress of v. 4. The hands and heart represent the outward and inward features, both of which are to be made pure. This requisite is wholly essential in both drawing nigh to God and in defeating the enemy. For the cognate adjective of purify see ch. 3:17.
6. “Be afflicted and mourn and weep.” If we are to be delivered from light vain praying and enter the realm Christ entered when, with strong crying and tears He made supplication for deliverance from death, we need to experience a grief that cannot be hid and a challenge that is conspicuous to all.
7. “Humble yourselves in the sight of God.” Humility is the only path to honor in God’s estimate. In the hour of conflict humility is the only deportment that will assure exaltation in the day when honors are conferred.
Yea more, this priceless virtue is the one ever‑open highway to greater grace, safer security, friendlier fellowship, comelier conduct, holier hearts, intenser intercession and higher honor.
God thinks so much of humility, that He gave His Son, Who expressed it fully, the highest pinnacle in glory, far above all heavens.
(c) Humility in Decision. (vs. 11‑17) A real need exists for wisdom when we are making decisions. The tendency is to grow careless when setting out our plans for the days that lie ahead, as though the command of time were at our disposal.
“Time was is not; thou canst not it recall,
Time is thou hast; employ the moments small;
Time future is not and may never be,
Time present is the only time for thee.”
We have no knowledge of how future events will affect us and life is very uncertain, yea, it is described here as the vapor which appears and disappears like some transient, effervescent thing. The motto, “If the Lord will,” should be written upon every project we plan to do. This was Paul's practice. (I Cor. 4:19)
The boasting of which James speaks is really bragging. Aristotle describes the word as referring to the character of one who claims the credit for a thing not done, or for something very much exaggerated. The word comes from a root which means a wanderer or vagabond. We are confident that anyone so acting is unwise before men, let alone in the presence of the Eternal. Our Lord's words, “Be careful for nothing," really imply, set your mind on me and be carefully careless about all else. Seasonable concentration on the things of God will lead to a spiritual determination to do His will. There is no decrepit old age in the spiritual realm. Rejuvenescence is simply letting God have His own way. There is eternal vigor and freshness in sonship. That is why Christ is called the Ancient of Days, not of years. “If the Lord will” is the badge of like-mindedness.
THE LINE OF VARIANCE
There is a very definite tendency to relapse into indifference and a distinct tone of rebellious insurgence indicated in the chapter. We may take the line of least resistance in friendship with the world and wake up to find ourselves at variance with God. Self‑gratification is not a mark of grace, for the worldly-minded are never well‑pleasing to the Lord.
Infidelity to infinite love is the most heinous of all sins. How dreadful is the employ:
“Watching Thy terrible and
Shrivel the falsehood from the
Souls of men.”
Inconsistent Behavior. Longing after the fleshpots of Egypt and loitering near the haunts of wickedness are alike unjustifiable in the Christian life.
To seek material advantages and physical pleasures, as though these were supremely important, exhibits a degrading of capacity. God intended our aspirations to be directed to higher altitudes.
Dr. Henry Vandyke in his volume, “The Ruling Passion,” says, “There is in every life a ruling passion which becomes the very pulse of the imagination. Unless you touch that you are groping round outside of reality. Music, nature, children, honor, strife, revenge, money, pride, friendship, loyalty, duty, to these and other objects the secret power of personal passion often turns, and life unconsciously follows after as ocean tides follow the moon in the sky."
Seeing that is true, we need to set our affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Then there will be no room for worldly friendships and inconsistent behavior.
Incompetent Boasting. We should take heed to the strong emphasis and stress that is laid on the tongue all through this epistle. If we speak ill of others or slander or judge a brother, we condemn the royal law of love which forbids all such practices. James had heard Christ utter His great message of Matt. 7:1‑5, and violence to these principles is indicative of a wrong relation towards them, and thereby we violate the very thing we should vindicate. Judgment of the lives and labors of others belongs to God alone. Let us beware then of usurping His office and function. We are to be doers of the law, not disputers of it, and need to compare the little emphatic “thou,” v. 12, that belongs to us, with His Divine omnipotence. The only credentials that suffice for judging and condemning are the ability to kill and make alive, and the authority to save or to destroy.
THE LABOUR OF PATIENCE
There are twelve references to patience and prayer in this brief chapter and striking illustrations are supplied of both. The characters which furnish these examples are Job and Elijah, a selection from among the patriarchs and prophets. The virtue and vigor of each of these men in conflict and challenge should stimulate confidence and courage in all believers to endure patiently and pray fervently. There are many features of life in the New Testament that are dissimilar to those of the Old, but the problems and perplexities do not differ.
Harvesting the fruit of the earth in its universal plenitude is the insistent call and persistent claim that James is stressing. Have we been arrested by the startling appeal to cooperate, or are we in the condition in which Samaria was in Christ's day, overshadowed by a false form of true religion? Samaria's need then is the world's need now. Christ still pleads as He stands amid a world's woes and weariness, Himself the Sower of the seed, bidding us rise up and reap. Humanity is oppressed, fleeced, exploited and ravaged by wolves. Have we then no trait of the Great Shepherd's sympathy and no ray of light radiating from our lives? He that is wise winneth souls.
Chapter 5: WISDOM AND WRETCHEDNESS - The wretchedness which James portrays is not associated with want, but wealth. The Church of Laodicea said, “We are rich and increased with goods.” Christ said, “Thou art wretched.” The rich that are addressed here had their fruitful fields, laborers, harvests and wealth, but so far as the riches of grace were concerned, they were destitute.
Those who hoarded wealth in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the city were overwhelmed in misery because they were denying in very deed all belief that the overthrow of Jerusalem was at hand. James lifts the figure from its local setting and makes a universal application of it as involving all the world and all mankind at the coming of the Lord. For any one to heap up treasure in days like these is a blatant denial of the fact that the predicted judgment of God is imminent.
Someone has said of the present world order, “When sin is encased in gold-plate the lance of justice cannot penetrate it, but when clothed in rags a tiny straw will pierce it.” Where wealth rules there is always betrayal of some kind, but where wisdom sways the scepter, souls are brought to God.
This chapter shows that the life that is endowed by wisdom:
(1) Serves loyally in the stewardship of property; (vs. 1‑6)
(2) Stimulates chivalry in respect of Christ's return; (vs. 7‑8)
(3) Supports consistency as exemplified by the prophets; (vs. 9‑11)
(4) Simplifies certainty by the use of yes and no; (vs. 12)
(5) Supplicates conscientiously on behalf of the sick; (vs. 13‑15)
(6) Strives conjointly in the ministry of prayer; (vs. 16‑18)
(7) Seeks concertedly to regain others from error. (vs. 19‑20)
There is no equipment more complete for mind, heart and will than the gifts and graces wisdom imparts. The eighth chapter of Proverbs discloses that spiritual blessing, social benefits and sterling bequests are imparted by wisdom. Yea, all that we need to guard and guide, all that urges us to heal and help and all that we require to devotedly seek and save, wisdom can provide.
We cannot with all our collaboration and effort put the basis of life right, apart from God acting and bestowing.
(a) Patience in Persecution. (vs. 1‑6) By reason of the prevalence of injustice in the world the cry of agony rings out from many a farm, factory and forecastle. Many charges against capitalism have been laid from the markets, manufacturing centers, and merchant marine service. The four references that are made to the rich in this epistle are by no means flattering. Laborers have a right to expect their desserts and desires will be understood by their leaders.
On the l0th of February, 1840, the day Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe‑Gotha, who had been granted £30,000 a year, poor people perished through hunger in East London, while in Birmingham a considerable area of the city was burned by the unemployed. The Duke of Wellington, who had witnessed sinister sights and sores on the battlefields of Europe, said, “I have never seen anything worse in war.”
The name of God that is used here in connection with the appeal made for help is full of suggestiveness. The title does not occur in the first eight books of the Old Testament. The conditions prevailing during the days of Samuel the prophet caused its first appearance, afterward it was frequently found on the lips of the prophets. We are told here of the profligate expenditure and sumptuous living of those who deny to the poor the just recompense for their labor, yea, some of these rich folk are mentioned as going so far as to have innocent people condemned and executed. The sentencing of Christ and stoning of Stephen are abiding illustrations of this very thing. The spirit of Cain is still prevalent throughout the wide world. Today victims are asphyxiated in lethal gas chambers to an untempered degree of indescribable torture, thereby violating all the decencies of civilization.
(b) Patience in Perplexity. (vs. 7‑12) The pressure of circumstances seems to belong to every age and we have been given the bright prospect of Christ's coming to strengthen us for the bearing of the burdens of life. The farmer is called upon to exhibit patience as he looks forward longingly for the time of harvest to compensate him for his labors. Likewise we are directed to the coming of Christ as a panacea for all present ills.
“He is coming and the tidings
Sweep through the willing air,
With hope that ends forever
Time's ages of despair.”
If one holds a clear and confident view of the second advent, there is no fear of becoming a visionary, but, rather, the certainty of advancing to a vigorous and virtuous Christian service characterized by victorious living.
The spirit of expectancy exercises a powerful influence on the life that is loyal to Christ, teaching the mind to be alert and watchful, and at the same
time training the soul to be aggressive and faithful in the Master's interests.
There are broken lives that need salvaging, wandering sheep that need seeking, disabled folk that need saving and defenseless youths that need shielding. If we watch for His coming we shall become diligent workers, contented laborers and patient sufferers, eagerly awaiting the hour of emancipation. The return of our Redeemer is the occasion both of joy and judgment.
Job is introduced as an example of one who triumphed in tribulation and who, in the end, was amply rewarded for his endurance. The sweetest aroma arises from transformed sorrows.
We are particularly called upon to take notice of the “end of the Lord,” v.11, that is, the objective that God had in view in permitting the trial. These experiences are recorded in the closing chapter of the Old Testament book which bears the patriarch's name. His prayer was heard, his possessions were doubled, his problems were solved, his patience was rewarded, his peace was multiplied and his perception enlarged. David said after a long period of trial, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.”
Exercise of heart in such experiences always leads to enlightenment and when the emancipation takes place we have a more radiant testimony than ever.
The twelfth verse of the chapter forms a link between its two main sections. We need to remember that the command bidding us not to swear by heaven or earth or by any other oath bears directly on the context. Persistent persecution and provocation oft‑times betray the underlying strain of impatience. This results in giving utterance to hard words that are invectives, and in doing harsh deeds that are incriminative. Adjuration is always dangerous. We may vow that we will see things out to the bitter end, but this is not the path that wisdom has mapped out for her children. She instructs us to speak quietly and simply what we know to be the truth and leave it there, for we need have no fear in maintaining such a position.
Let us also remember that prayer is open to all who are oppressed, and we have the privilege of prevailing at the mercy seat over circumstances that we cannot remedy. In view of the encouragement and example that have preceded we are now exhorted to speak the truth and ask God to bless it. This will achieve more than all the vows and oaths we can utter.
(c) Patience in Prayer. Two features of this are here dealt with, that which is private and personal, “Let him pray,” and that which can be achieved by cooperation, “Let him send for the elders of the church.”
Prayer and praise are spoken of as the two most potent weapons which wisdom teaches us to use in our warfare. Hymns of praise are a wonderful aid in private devotion and the practice is clearly advocated and conjoined in v. 13. In the hour of conflict, pray, and when the answer brings good cheer, praise with joyful lips. Special believing prayer is also advocated for those that are sick.
The invocation of God is an operation that requires the most sensitive and delicate spiritual suitability of character. A familiarity with the fact of God is wholly inadequate. James reminds us “the devils believe and tremble.” The real secret is obedience, not ostentation.
Gifts of healing were certainly a reality in the early church and the elders spoken of here are those who had the care of the flock at heart. Anointing is also considered as a means of healing and, instead of forbidding the use of medical means, this practice advocates such. Oil was used in the Old Testament priesthood as a symbol denoting sanctification, for when the priest and king were anointed they were set aside for the service of God. Those who have contended that this epistle was written exclusively for those of Jewish connection are challenged with the injunction that the sick are to send for the elders of the church. Following the praying and anointing there is to be the attitude of believing.
There is a definite connection indicated here between sickness and sin, yea, the words imply that if the sick one was in a state caused by having committed sin it should be forgiven him. Therefore forgiveness is by prayer to God, not by friendly absolution. The whole church is represented by these praying elders and it was to the disciples as a whole that Christ entrusted this great stewardship. (John 20:23)
The fourth condition is that of confessing, but it is certainly not favoring auricular confession, but a mutual audible acknowledgment expressed in both confession and intercession and this as a continued practice. The main reference of these things directs to the healing of the sick. Those who claim today to have the power to remit sins upon confession do not claim to have power to remove the sickness, but have established hospitals for its treatment.
We are introduced to a stupendous fact in v. 16, for the prayer of a righteous man is mysterious and mighty in its effectiveness. Special emphasis is here laid upon the words “availeth much.” Who can limit the ability and achievement of this function of Christian fellowship? However, the prayer must be the true expression of a heartfelt need and presented by one who is living the life of righteousness. With these conditions fulfilled, the potential energy of prayer is boundless.
Elijah is next introduced and the Spirit of God fills up the outline of the Old Testament narrative (I Kings 7) by telling us the exact period during which the famine raged.
Fervent prayer not only brings the rain of heaven with productiveness in its train, but also assures spiritual fruitfulness in the service of the Master.
THE LACK OF PRUDENCE
Discretion, carefulness and sagacity are deplorably lacking in those who misuse authority and mismanage administrative privileges. Some hoard wealth from which they must inevitably be severed, when they might have gained merit by wisely using a portion of their resource in helping the tired toilers and wearied workers to enjoy a few more domestic comforts and the common facilities of life.
If we are going to apply the requisites that wisdom’s resource brings to us, the real evidence that we have received these is expressed in the conversion of others. The message begins with asking in faith and closes with praying in faith. If we are wise we will implicitly trust, if we are wise we will intercede, if we are wise we will introduce Christ, if we are wise we will initiate others into the saving grace of God.